When you're the main caregiver for an elderly or incapacitated loved one, it's easy to become completely absorbed by all of your caregiving responsibilities. As your day moves along, you're so busy from one moment to the next that before you know it, the sun is setting and you never even stopped for lunch. You start to feel stressed and resentful. Somewhere in the back of your mind you know there has to be a better way to get everything done without sacrificing your own health, if only you had time to figure it out.
How long can you operate under these circumstances before caregiver burnout strikes? For most people, the answer is "Not very long." We all need to find ways to de-stress in difficult long-term situations, and caregivers are no exception. These five practical strategies can help you beat caregiver stress once and for all.
1. Take Care of Your Physical Health
Think about the emergency instructions given before every commercial air flight: If you're traveling with others who may need assistance, put on your own oxygen mask first. You can't help someone sitting next to you if you can't breathe yourself. The same is true of caregiving for an older loved one. Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, getting some exercise every day, and keeping up with your own medical, dental, and vision care are key to giving you the physical strength and stamina to provide care for your loved one.
2. Pay Attention to Your Emotional Needs
Take the time you need to care for your own emotional health. Make sure you stay connected with other family members and friends, especially those who will be able to offer news and conversation that is not about your caregiving. If you find yourself feeling angry and resentful over your situation, it's essential to talk about it. Make use of community resources, if necessary, to find a support group or counselor to help you cope.
3. Get Organized
Caregivers' days are typically filled with multiple chores and appointments. Trying to carry all of those details around in your head is exhausting. Use the time-tested methods of calendars and to-do lists to help organize the multitude of tasks a caregiver must do. Whether you prefer the traditional paper options, a computer-based system, or an app for your smartphone, once your tasks and appointments are recorded, you'll likely start to de-stress.
Try to keep your outside commitments to a minimum. Avoid taking on outside projects for religious or community organizations while also being a primary elder caregiver. (Unless the project would also serve as a fun break for you).
4. Take a Break
Everyone needs a break from the same routine day after day. That's why employers must provide their workers days off. There's no reason to feel guilty if you need some time away from caregiving. If you can't get another family member to take over caregiving duties for an afternoon or evening, search out community resources.
Many areas have adult day care centers when you need an afternoon to yourself. If you need a longer break, look for an assisted living community that offers short-term stays or respite care. Try not to feel guilty; your loved one may enjoy the change as much as you do.
5. Seek Help When You Need It
Don't be afraid to ask for help. It does not mean you're not a good enough caregiver. It's part of being human. Turn to family, friends, and community resources to fill in when you simply don't have the time or energy to do the job properly.
If you've tried these ways to de-stress without success, don't lose hope. Try again, and remember that there are elder care professionals, caregiver support groups and other community and online resources that can help.